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Kissinger resigns as head of 9/11 commission

Henry Kissinger was a leading figure in U.S. foreign policy during the 1970s.
Henry Kissinger was a leading figure in U.S. foreign policy during the 1970s.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Facing questions about potential conflicts of interest, Henry Kissinger resigned Friday as chairman of the September 11 commission.

President Bush named Kissinger to lead the 10-member commission last month, dropping his longstanding opposition to an independent probe of the events leading up to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In a letter to the president, Kissinger, 79, said he was stepping down from the appointment to remove any questions about even the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding his ties to several organizations and public figures.

An administration official said Kissinger also called White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Friday afternoon to talk about his withdrawal from the position. The official would not say if the call was expected, but aides said the president was surprised by Kissinger's decision.

In his letter, Kissinger said he was prepared to submit all relevant financial information to the White House and an independent review, as well as to other members of the joint commission.

"It has become clear, however, that although specific potential conflicts can be resolved in this manner, the controversy would quickly move to the consulting firm I have built and own," Kissinger's letter said.

"To liquidate Kissinger Associates cannot be accomplished without significantly delaying the beginning of the joint commission's work," he added. "I have, therefore, concluded that I cannot accept the responsibility you have proposed."

The concern is the questions of conflict of interest that may be raised because the former secretary of state serves on the boards of several organizations, and is chairman of some of them.

Kissinger was national security adviser and later secretary of state under President Nixon. After Nixon's resignation in 1974, Kissinger continued as secretary of state under President Ford.

Henry Kissinger
Age: 79; born May 27, 1923, in Germany
Career highlights: U.S. secretary of state, 1973-1977; national security adviser, 1969-1975; shared the Nobel Peace Prize with North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho; author, professor and Army veteran
Personal: As a child, fled Nazi Germany in 1938 with family to the United States; married to Nancy Marginnes; two adult children from previous marriage

President Bush, in a brief statement, said he accepted Kissinger's decision "with regret."

"As I stated at the time of his appointment, Dr. Kissinger is one of our nation's most accomplished and respected public servants. I thank him for his willingness to consider serving this country once again," the president's statement said.

Bush promised he would select a new chairman for the commission soon.

Kissinger's appointment was criticized by some who said he was too close to powerful national and international figures to be independent. In an editorial published November 29, The New York Times suggested the White House chose him "to contain an investigation it has long opposed."

It's the second resignation from the commission in two days. Wednesday, former Sen. George Mitchell announced he was stepping down as vice chairman of the independent board.

In his letter, Mitchell also cited potential conflicts of interest. He said he didn't want to sever ties with his law firm, which he said he had been urged to do, and he said the commission's work would take too much time.

"I regret that I will not be able to serve," the former Senate Majority leader wrote.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, will replace Mitchell.

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